Longstanding trade unionist, Joseph “Burns” Bonadie is accusing his counterpart, Elroy Boucher of breaking protocol when he announced this week that the government is offering public sector workers a 2.5 per cent salary increase retroactive from Jan. 2015, to be paid on Dec. 18.
But Boucher has countered this accusation, saying that Bonadie is siding with the government in an attempt to make the unions looks stupid for partisan political reasons.
Boucher, who is president of the Public Service Union, told a news conference on Wednesday, that at a meeting with trade unions on Tuesday, the government offered the 2.5 per cent increase for 2015, in addition to 2 per cent for 2016.
It is the first salary increase proposed for public sector workers since 2011, and came one week after the PSU and the Teachers Union staged a one-day strike on Oct. 13.
The strike was part of efforts to force the government to pay one month’s salary tax-free in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
Bonadie, who is head of the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Movement (CTAWU) and the government’s advisor on labour matters, brokered the meeting between the government and public sector workers organisations.
In addition to associations representing police officers and nurses, the meeting included the PSU and the Teachers’ Union, which had suspended salary negotiations with the government.
Bonadie told I-Witness News on Friday that while the meeting with Gonsalves agreed on the 4.5 per cent salary increase, how it was to be disaggregated was not decided upon.
The Prime Minister had to go back to the Cabinet with the outcome of the meeting and would have made an announcement on Independence Day, next Tuesday, Bonadie said.
“Boucher run and called a press conference,” Bonadie noted, adding that this not proper protocol.
“How can you go and hold a press conference prior to the Prime Minister reporting back to the Cabinet on the discussion that we had?”
“… Of course he broke protocol because we agreed we will wait. If the Prime Minister comes back and says we will give tax relief, it means that the take home pay in the retroactive [package] will be more, because you will not pay any tax…
“As is normal in negotiations, if you agree on a figure, one would like to front load the figure so that the second increase would carry it higher.”
He told I-Witness News that Boucher asked the Prime Minister specifically what is the figure, and the Prime Minister said “I am not saying anything until Independence Day in my address.”
Asked how could the Prime Minister make an announcement in his Independence Address if there was no agreement with the unions, Bonadie said:
“My friend, we know what we agreed to in there and Boucher spoke prematurely. That is the point. We know the discussion, we know what we talked about, we know the figures we put in front of the Prime Minister, the percentages we put in front of the Prime Minister.”
Bonadie said the director of Finance took part in the meeting and in the discussion about whether the money would be paid tax-free, “the Prime Minister said that is another X, so and so you have to put on whatever we agree upon.
“The Director of Finance made the point that every one per cent tax free will cause another X, Y, Z. all of that the Director of Finance put before the Prime Minister,” Bonadie said.
He said the discussions included other issues, such as allowances for police officers and the Prime Minister said his government is looking at lowering the tax rate.
“All of those things were on the table … All of those things were in the equation. We discussed all of those things. All Boucher had to do, hold on let us get something from the Prime Minister, by Monday we would know for sure, so it will not be a surprise.
But Boucher maintained on Friday that he did not speak out of turn.
“When was he going to do that and he was going to make the announcement on Tuesday?” he said in response to Bonadie’s comment that the unions should have waited to hear back from Gonsalves.
He accused the Prime Minister of wanting the unions to remain quiet while he goes and makes an announcement that they don’t know about.
“Nobody is going to sit down and make the unions look stupid. Not as long as I am here,” Boucher said.
“I see this for what it is and I will not allow the union to be played that way by any politician.
“You can’t accept anything when you don’t know what is the quantum. They want us to look foolish for political reasons. Burns is a veteran trade unionist and he will not put himself in that position under normal circumstances,” Boucher said.
“No trade union goes to a negotiation and agree and they don’t know what they are negotiating,” Boucher said, reiterating that the plan of the government was for the Prime Minister to make an announcement before the unions agreed to it.
“We have to cater for our membership first and foremost, not the prime minister and his political party. Those are our constituents. When the elections are called we go and vote for whatever political party we support,” Boucher told I-Witness News.
The PSU will have an emergency meeting of its members at 3 p.m. today (Friday).
Boucher said that if the government wants to contend that the quantum was not agreed upon, the union will make its own proposal.
“Since that one is in doubt we must have something that we are dealing with. Otherwise, it is merely a game that they are paying,” he said.